Chapter 14

-1-

 

Saturday, March 3, 1990 Catherine’s Journal

 

I can hardly hold a pen to write, but if I don’t do something, I’ll go mad. Father has confined me to my bed for a week. No activity, he said.  No teaching, no taking care of Jake, no gardening...nothing. He’s right, I know. I have to rest. But I can write.

 

I told Vincent about this journal and asked him to bring it to me this morning before he left. He brought it, no questions asked, no comments made. As awful as I feel, as emotionally drained as I am, I wonder if perhaps what he is going through isn’t worse.

 

He told me about killing Pope. He said there was no rage, no sudden loss of control. He simply waited for the right moment and then killed the man. This is a profound change in him, and he’s not dealing with it well. Small wonder - none of us are dealing well with anything.

 

I am mourning the loss of a child who would have been the image of his father. I cannot believe how much this hurts, not only for myself, but for everyone in our family. Father is blaming himself, which makes no sense. Mary tries to comfort him, but she herself is inconsolable. Sybil is convinced that she should have been able to see the future, my future, and know that I would fall apart at some point. Joe’s injuries are healing, and he and Diana are happy together; but they seem to blame themselves for Vincent not being with me when I went into labor.

 

And Vincent...Vincent, my love, who with every gesture and word heaps blame upon himself for giving me a “defective” baby. His word, not mine, and what a cold word it is. The loss of this child has wounded him in a way that may never heal. He has told me, as gently as he could make the words come out, that he wants no more children. He is afraid this will happen again. Afraid, always afraid. Is this the way we will live our lives?

 

But I know who is to blame...myself. I was the one who ran out into the cold; I was the one who pushed myself physically. I was the baby’s home, and I pushed him out before he was ready. Oh, God, there must be an end to all this pain. The light Sybil brought for me is already helping, but still I cry every day. Sybil says crying is part of the healing process; I hope she’s right. I’m going to sleep now; I’m too tired to sit any longer. I always tell myself that when I wake up things will look better, but they never do.

 

 

 

 

-2-

 

Thursday, March 8, 1990 Catherine’s Journal

 

What is happening to me? A miracle...a dream...an illusion. I don’t know what it is. I don’t dare say anything to Vincent without speaking to Father first. Oh, God, can it be true? Is it possible? Please...

 

“Catherine, I’m sorry, but it simply isn’t possible!” Catherine sat on the examining table in the hospital chamber, listening to Father.

 

“All I want you to do is look at me and see if…”

 

Father slammed his hand on the desk at which he sat. “I tell you, it was a clean delivery! There is no possible way you can still be pregnant.”

 

“But I can feel it.” She leaned forward. “It’s all coming back, just like before: the nausea, breast tenderness, as if it were starting all over…”

 

“Catherine, please, I understand how you might…”

 

Movement, Father! I feel movement.” She nodded when he gave her a stunned look. “It’s true. I’m not imagining it.”

 

Father stood and leaned on his cane, staring at the floor for a moment before meeting Catherine’s eyes. “All right. I’ll examine you, and we’ll do a blood test. But don’t get your hopes up, Catherine, please. You haven’t mentioned this to Vincent?”

 

“No, of course not. I won’t say anything at all unless the tests are positive.”

 

Father shook his head. “I said this was impossible, but that’s not entirely true. I remember hearing about a case when I was in medical school. One of our instructors had a patient who miscarried a twin, then went on to give birth to another baby six months later.”

 

“Then it could happen!”

 

“Catherine...the second baby died minutes after its birth.”

 
Silence.

 

Father sighed. “All right, my dear, lie back and let us see what we can find.”

 

Later that day, Father spoke privately with Catherine and confirmed her suspicion that she was still pregnant. He left her in a joyous mood, a mood he couldn’t share as he walked back to his chamber. What if this child was stillborn as well? What if...

 

He sighed to himself.    For one wretched moment he considered suggesting to Catherine that she undergo an abortion, but he immediately dismissed the thought. Not only was the idea abhorrent him personally, he could imagine Catherine’s reaction. She was determined to give Vincent what she thought he needed. Father prayed that Vincent and Catherine were not headed for a repeat tragedy.

 

(How do I tell him? “Vincent, I’m still pregnant.” He will look at me as if I’m crazy. Sometimes I think Father suspects I am half insane anyway. Is it so wrong to want a second chance? Yes, I know, this baby could be born dead too. I’m not stupid; I’ve thought about the consequences. I even thought about an abortion, but I couldn’t do that. How could I kill something that Vincent and I created from our love?

 

I’ve always believed in God, I’ve always prayed, but now I’m bombarding Heaven. If I could come face to face with God, I wouldn’t leave without a promise that this child will be all right. I would beg, I would plead, I would insist that my child live. I don’t care what it looks like, I don’t care about anything, please, Just let it live.)

 

Later that evening, Diana visited Vincent and Catherine. “Have you heard?” she asked, taking a seat next to Catherine.

 

“Heard what?” Catherine asked. She was ensconced in a big comfortable chair, her feet propped on a stool. Vincent sat nearby, helping little Jake eat a banana.

 

“Sybil had her baby this morning! It’s a girl.”

 

Catherine’s mouth fell open. “She did? But... isn’t it too soon? I thought she wasn’t due for another two months.”

 

Diana shrugged. “I saw her this afternoon. She thinks her doctor miscalculated the due date. She’s fine, the baby’s perfect, they’re both...” Diana’s voice trailed off.

 

Catherine looked at Vincent. He was still feeding Jake, but his movements had become mechanical. He raised his head, briefly met her eyes, then spoke to Diana. “That’s wonderful news. Please tell her we are very pleased for her.”

 

Diana shot a glance at Catherine before speaking. “Sure. I’ll tell her, Vincent. She told me to tell you she’ll bring the baby down for a visit as soon as she can.”

 

“Wonderful,” Catherine said. “How is Joe?”

 

”He’s…” Diana stopped with a little smile. Her eyes rolled to the ceiling, then back to Catherine. “He’s fine. We’re fine.” She hesitated, then shrugged. “We’re happy.”

 

“Good for you.” Catherine smiled at her.

 

After a brief silence, Diana stood. “Well, I need to go. Joe and I are meeting with the chief of police and some government types tonight.”

 

“Is this about Gabriel?” Catherine asked.

 

“Of course.” Diana shook her head. “Someday I’ll tell you the whole story. This guy…he had his hands in everything. Listen, I’ve gotta run. Take care.” She waved goodbye and left.

 

Catherine watched Diana leave, then she turned to Vincent. “Vincent…”

 

“I will put Jacob to bed.” He carried the baby out of the room.

 

Catherine settled into the chair to wait. Five minutes later Vincent came back and sat down again. He didn’t look at her, nor did he speak.

 

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” she asked.

 

He nodded and kept his head down. His hair fell about his face, veiling his features.

 

Catherine studied him, looking for an opening, the right moment to begin. The hell with this!  She cleared her throat. “Vincent...come here.”

 

He raised his head and looked at her. His eyes were full of tears.

 

“Please,” she said, her voice soft.  “I need to tell you something.” She held out her hand.

 

He slowly stood and came over to her. He sat on the stool in front of her chair and grasped her hand. “What is it, Catherine?”

 

She tried to smile but couldn’t.  “This is...so strange.  It should be good news, but...I’m afraid to tell you.” She closed her eyes and waited for him to speak, but he didn’t. She opened her eyes and continued. “I’ve been feeling odd the past few days. It didn’t seem possible, but after awhile I began to think I was still…” She stopped, then let the words rush out. “Vincent, I saw Father this morning. He did a pelvic exam and a blood test. I’m still pregnant.”

 

She felt the strength drain from his grip and held on tighter with both hands as he started to pull away. “No,” he said. He sounded for all the world as if she’d asked him if he would mind if she cut her hair.

 

“Yes.” He was pulling harder now, his eyes blinking in disbelief, but she held on and pulled him back.  “It’s true. I miscarried a twin. We’re still going to have a baby.”

 

“We can’t.”

 

“We can and we will.”

 

“No...”

 

“Yes…”

“NO!”

 

For a moment she thought he would tear himself away from her. Instead he buried his face in her lap and began crying, great heartbroken sobs that echoed throughout the room. She leaned over and gathered him into her arms, hugging as much of him as she could. Cry, my love, cry for both of us. I can’t cry now, because I have to be your strength for at least a little while.

 

Vincent cried until he was spent. Finally he sat up. His mouth worked as he tried to form words. “You are...sure?”

 

“Yes. Here...feel.” She grabbed his hand and placed it against the left side of her belly, where a faint kicking had begun. ”Wait just a...there!” She smiled at him, trying not to look too eager. He sat for a moment, his face devoid of expression. Then pure wonder spread across his features, beginning with his eyes and ending in the slightest of smiles. He stared at Catherine. “He’s alive.”

 

She’s alive,” Catherine said, instantly taken aback by her own words.

 

“She?” His forehead wrinkled. “How do you know?”

 

She shook her head and gave a short laugh. “I don’t know what made me say that. Oh, Vincent...here!” She moved his hand to the other side, just below her rib cage. “I think that was an elbow...or maybe a knee.”

 

“Alive.” Vincent touched her face, then leaned over to kiss her stomach. He looked at Catherine again. “Do you think it will work out this time? Do you think...?”

 

“It has to,” she said. She slid off the chair and into his lap, both of them balancing precariously on the low stool. “It just has to.”

 

 

 

 

-3-

 

Friday, March 9, 1990 Catherine’s Journal

 

Last night I gave this journal to Vincent to read. He didn’t stop reading until he was finished, and we stayed up late into the night talking. God, we must have talked about everything. If there are any secrets or words left unsaid between us now, they are too deeply hidden to ever be found. We talked about what happened when he killed Pope. I tried to convince him that he did the only thing he could have done in order to protect people he cared about. I don’t know if he really believes me, but at least he listened.

 

Finally he talked to me about the miscarriage. He has been telling himself that the child was unable to live because of its looks. Between Father and me, we almost - almost - have him convinced that this is not so. Poor Vincent...it’s been terrible for him. As horrible as this has been for me, I think it’s been even worse for him, in ways I’m only beginning to understand.

 

He told me that the night I miscarried, and on a couple of other occasions as well, he thought he could feel the return of our bond. He spoke hesitantly, as if afraid he might jinx whatever had happened. I told him that on our wedding day I had had the same feeling...that once again we were united emotionally. How cautious we both are when it comes to this subject! We finally admitted to one another how much we both miss the bond. Yes, we can live without it, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have it back again?   Is it too much to wish for another miracle?

 

 

 

 

-4-

 

Saturday, March 17, 1990

 

Sybil Lawton, her baby daughter strapped to her chest and a diaper bag on her arm, stopped outside Vincent and Catherine’s chamber. She whispered to the top of her baby’s bald head: “O.K., Rita, this is going to be a nice visit. Everyone’s going to be happy for everyone else, right? You bet. Oh, boy, here we go.” Sybil knocked and called out: “It’s me, Sybil. Anybody home?”

 

“Come in!” Catherine’s voice replied.

 

Sybil stepped inside and was greeted by a radiant Catherine. They managed to hug without squashing the baby.

 

“You look great!” Catherine said as they sat down.

 

“Well, of course, I’m a mom now. All moms are beautiful. So they say. Here.” Sybil placed the baby in her friend’s arms.

 

“What did you name your beautiful daughter?” Catherine stroked the sleeping baby’s soft face.

 

“Rita Katherine. Katherine with a ‘k,’ so don’t get a swelled head about it.”

 

Catherine smiled. “Have you heard from your husband?”

 

Sybil grinned. “I got this great mailgram from him yesterday: ‘A girl - wow! Thank you. I love you. See you in three weeks.’ And then a P.S.:  ‘Horny as hell. And yourself?’”    She sighed dramatically as Catherine collapsed in giggles. “Is he romantic or what??”

 

“Oh, God, that’s funny!” Catherine wiped her eyes and gazed down at the baby. “She’s fantastic, Sybil.”

 

“And how are you doing?” Sybil narrowed her eyes.

 

“Don’t give me that doctor look.”

 

“You look good.”

 

Catherine nodded, contemplative. “I feel really great. Jacob is healthy, crawling all over the place, trying to talk and walk. Vincent is...he’s happy, and he’s scared, but at least he tells me how he feels when he feels it. Any barriers we used to have...they’re all gone.”

 

“That’s good. Are you scared, too?”

 

“A little. I don’t know what to expect. Father watches over me like a mother hen. He would move in and sleep with us if we let him.” She smiled as Sybil laughed. “I’m trying to stay busy. Here, look at these.” She handed Sybil a stack of papers that rested on a nearby table.

 

Sybil scanned a few pages. “Plans for your gardens?”

 

“Used to be my gardens. Now it’s everyone’s project. I’m in charge of coordinating research and keeping everyone motivated.”

 

“Any results yet?”

 

“The structures are finished, and the first plants go in tomorrow. After that, we cross our fingers and hope we followed all the instructions.”

 

Sybil nodded. “It’s a wonderful idea, Catherine. I don’t see why it can’t work. And if it does, you’ll have upgraded the standard of life for everyone down here.”

 

“And if it doesn’t work?”

 

“Then it doesn’t. You and everyone else will have done their best. That’s all that counts in the long run.”

 

“I guess so.” Catherine’s face grew serious.

 

“What is it?” Sybil asked.

 

Catherine cocked her head. “Did I ever thank you for all your help? Did I ever come to you and say, ‘Thanks, Sybil, for helping bring Vincent and me closer together’? I didn’t, did I?”

 

Sybil thought for a moment. “Mmmmm...no, I don’t think you did.”

 

“Well…”

 

“You’re welcome already, for God’s sakes” The two women looked at each other, then burst into laughter. At that moment Vincent entered the chamber.

 

“Vincent!” Sybil stood and exchanged a careful hug with him.

 

“You’re looking well,” he said, unable to take his eyes off the baby.

 

“Would you like to hold her?” Without waiting for an answer, Sybil took the baby from Catherine’s arms. “Sit down.”

 

“I don’t think…”

 

“Shut up and sit down.” Sybil handed the baby to Vincent, who obediently took a seat.      She exchanged an amused glance with Catherine, then returned her attention to Vincent.      His past experience with children showed; he seemed entirely comfortable with the baby.

 

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Catherine asked.

 

Vincent looked at her. “Yes.” He met Sybil’s eyes. “Catherine tells me our child will be a girl.”

 

“Oh, really.” Sybil swung around to look at Catherine, who shrugged. “I’m sure neither of you care one way or the other.”

 

Vincent’s voice was even. “All we hope for is a healthy baby.” Sybil touched Vincent’s shoulder and followed his gaze as it rested on her daughter’s peaceful face.

 

 

 

 

-5-

 

 

Thursday, May 10, 1990

 

Catherine hauled herself in front of the full-length mirror in her chamber. She held a cleaning rag in one hand; the other hand supported the small of her back. She contemplated her reflection with mock disgust. “Huge,” she said to the mirror. “How can anyone be so huge and still move?” She lightened her words with a smile.

 

She dusted the mirror frame and moved away, seeking another speck of grime to obliterate. She had awakened that morning with a streak of impatience running through her body.    Her first impulse was to clean everything in sight, which she did, including every piece of furniture in their chambers. When she was finished she left Jake in Rebecca’s care and walked, no, lumbered out to the greenhouse nearest her chambers. Much had been accomplished in the past few weeks, and each of the six greenhouses in the world Below was flourishing to a different degree.

 

The particular structure she wanted to inspect held mostly flowers and ornamental plants. A few practical-minded members of the tunnel community had protested this use of valuable materials, but finally everyone agreed that fresh flowers and house plants would be a welcome addition to their world.

 

Catherine piloted her bulk toward the back of the greenhouse. A few days ago Diana and Joe had brought down her rosebush and her gun, a combination that had struck Catherine as ridiculously funny.

 

“Guns and roses,” she had said to Diana. “I never liked that group.” She let Diana keep the gun and gladly accepted the rosebush.

 

The plant was strong and healthy, and Catherine enjoyed looking at it on a daily basis.

 

Now, back in her chambers, she paused again in front of the mirror. With uncritical eyes, she examined herself from head to foot, lingering on her face. It occurred to her that she liked the way she looked, more so than at any other time in her life. It would be hell trying to get her figure back after this pregnancy, but get it back she would.

 

Father estimated that the baby weighed at least eight pounds, and he warned Catherine to stay off her feet and rest as much as possible. She had followed his instructions religiously, until today. Today she couldn’t sit still.

 

She started dusting the rows of books lined in the bookshelf that Vincent had set against the wall near the chamber entrance. As she worked, she sensed something coming toward her, something large and strong, growing nearer, almost there--

 

Her hand froze above her head as a sharp pain bit into her lower back. He eyes flew wide, then she remembered to breathe. The pain subsided after a few seconds. Just as she lowered her arm, Vincent came barreling into the room.

 

“Catherine!” he gasped. “I was in Father’s study. I felt...are you all right...?” He stopped, unable to go on without catching his breath.

 

She gaped at him in astonishment as another contraction - it had to be a contraction - began. “I’m fine, Vincent, I’m just…” She gasped as the pain intensified.

 

“You must sit down.” Vincent led her to a chair and knelt beside her, watching her face.

After a few seconds, she relaxed. She looked at him. “I think it’s starting.”

 

“I know. Catherine, I felt it, I know I did!”

 

She touched his face, gazing into his brilliant blue eyes. “I believe you. Oh!” Her breath caught in her throat, and she closed her eyes as a sheet of pain swept over her. “Vincent…”

 

“I’ll get Father.”

 

“Hurry, Vincent. Please, hurry!”

 

Without another word, he ran out of the chamber.

 

Ten hours later Catherine and Vincent were propped on the bed in their chamber, drenched in each other’s sweat. Vincent had stripped to the waist and was sitting behind Catherine, his back to the wall, supporting her. Catherine was pale and exhausted; she had spent the last hour pushing.

 

A few hours into the labor, Father had held a hasty conference with Vincent and Mary. The old man was worried about the speed with which Catherine’s labor was progressing. Her labor had been hard from the very beginning, and he was afraid she would tire too soon. Now, as Father issued instructions and encouragement from the foot of the bed, Vincent tried to pour all his strength into Catherine’s body. He concentrated on his love for her and Jake and the unborn child, a strong love that had helped him deal with the crushing grief he had felt when Catherine miscarried their son. He gathered his senses and willed his emotions into her, praying that she might borrow his strength and resistance to pain. He found himself whispering into her ear. “Share it with me, Catherine. Let me help.”

 

“Vincent.” Her voice was a whimper. “It hurts so much. I don’t know if I can…”

 

“Once more, Catherine. Bear down,” Father’s voice commanded. Vincent felt Catherine comply, and involuntarily he followed her movements. He squeezed his eyes shut, and a moment later he felt himself become...unfastened from himself. His eyes flew open, and to his shock he saw himself in two places at once. He still cradled Catherine against his body, helping her physically brace herself against this latest onslaught of pain. But at the same time, he was molded to the inside of her body, pushing with her, inundated by a pain whose severity he never would have imagined.

 

Despite his shock, he didn’t let go of her, neither from the inside nor from the outside.     He glanced at Father and Mary and determined from their faces that they were unable to see what was happening between him and Catherine. But Catherine...did she know? “Catherine,” he whispered, hoping his words would reach her from two different directions.

“Vincent,” she said, and he almost cried at the delirious joy in her voice. ”I can feel you. You’re...are you inside me? Oh, God, you’re inside me; you’re helping me!” In the middle of a ferocious contraction, Catherine laughed.

 

Father’s head shot up, and he threw a glance at Vincent. Vincent merely shrugged. Explain the situation to Father, or anyone else? Never. For as long as he and Catherine drew breath, this would be their most precious and unyielding secret.

 

He returned his concentration to Catherine.  “I’m here,” he whispered. “I’m trying to help...” His words were lost as a tide of searing pain enveloped them both. Thank God she was so strong! He could tell she didn’t physically need the help he was giving, but nothing could have torn him away from her - out of her. He would experience it all, share it all with her.

 

“Here comes the head,” Father said.

 

Catherine gave a small scream, and at that moment the rest of the baby shot out into Father’s hands. Catherine raised her head, and Vincent felt a sharp sense of dislocation as he looked at the baby both from his own point of view and from Catherine’s. She had been right: it was a girl. A perfectly normal little girl.

 

“A girl!” Mary announced. She held the baby and smiled at Vincent and Catherine as Father did some suctioning. A few seconds later the baby emitted a lusty cry, which brought a ragged cheer from the adults.

 

“Let me hold her,” Catherine said, reaching out with trembling arms.

 

“Just a moment, Catherine, we need to…”  Father stopped speaking; his eyes had grown huge. ”Oh, dear God, what is this?”

 

“What is it?” Vincent felt himself slipping out of Catherine; he forced their connection to hold.

 

“The placenta?” Father said. ”It’s too soon...oh.” His voice dropped to an awestruck whisper, his eyes riveted to the place between Catherine’s legs.

 

“What is it?” Catherine croaked. Her face contorted, and she let out a yell.

 

Vincent started to ask a question, but stopped. The answer was within, literally. He could feel pressure in Catherine’s birth canal, as if it were his own body giving birth.

 

“Vincent.” Her voice was a tiny cry of desperation. “Help me.”

 

“I’m here,” he whispered. He spoke to Father: “Another child?”

 

“Yes,” Father answered in a distracted voice. “God, I don’t believe it...All right, Catherine, you must push once again. I’m so sorry,” and tears ran down his face at the sound of her feeble cries. “Hold on to her, Vincent, help her.”

 

Vincent pushed himself deeper, deeper inside Catherine, reaching for the very foundation of her soul, willing to trade all his strength and life force for the smallest cessation of her pain. He felt everything with her and soon discovered that he had the ability to pull the pain out of her and into himself.

 

“No, Vincent.” Her voice, strong and decisive, reached him from the inside. “Don’t do this. I don’t want you to hurt.”

 

“Let me do this,” he said. “Please, Catherine, let me share this with you.”

 

“All right,” she said after a moment. “Thank you.”

 

“Thank y…”

 

“PUSH!” Father bellowed.

 

For a moment Vincent thought he would be torn in two. The torment of his body (Catherine’s body!) was unbelievable; incredible that she should try to bear this alone.

 

“Women do it all the time.” Her voice drifted to him like a wisp of smoke.

 

“You don’t have to.” He tightened his external grip on her, wrapping his legs around her, lending her every bit of muscle and nerve he could muster.

 

“It’s coming,” Mary said, her voice tense. “Coming, coming...there!”

 

Vincent watched as a small, down-covered body emerged from Catherine. He felt his physical consciousness disengage from her and tried to rebind the connection, but he couldn’t. All his attention now was focused on the tiny creature lying still in Mary’s arms. Another girl, but not like the first. No...she looks like me! But she isn’t...is she breathing?  “Father…”

 

“A moment, Vincent,” Father said, once again suctioning.

 

“Another girl?” Catherine asked. She was too tired to raise her head and look.

 

“Yes,” Vincent said.

 

“Is she all right?”

 

At that moment the baby began crying, screaming as if her body were made up only of two strong lungs.

“Yes,” Vincent answered. He looked down at Catherine. Their bodies were now separate, but still he could feel everything she felt. “She is fine. She looks like me.”

 

“Like you?” Vincent felt her smile. “That’s wonderful.”

 

Vincent held her close and watched as Father and Mary cleaned up the two little girls. He kissed the top of Catherine’s head and whispered: “Catherine, we are one again.”

 

Her voice was exhausted but content: “This time...forever.”

 

 

-6-

 

Sunday, May 6, 1990

 

Catherine looked around at the crowd that had gathered in Father’s study for the naming ceremony. It seemed as if hundreds of people, including the tunnel world’s entire contingent of helpers, had gathered to welcome her daughters into the world.

 

“How did Father do it?” She leaned over to whisper in Vincent’s ear. He was seated to her left, and both held a tiny bundle in their arms. “Everyone is here!”

 

“I know,” Vincent said. He glanced to his left, and Catherine followed his gaze to Devin, who held little Jake. “Father must have moved heaven and earth in some instances.”

 

Catherine smiled and let her gaze rest on as many faces as she could see: Sybil and her daughter were there, along with Joe, Diana and Nancy Tucker, all carrying gifts (Nancy carried her camera as well).  Pascal had left his pipe chamber, Elizabeth her painted tunnels and William his kitchen; Mary stood close to Catherine, ever watchful and helpful; Jamie, Mouse, Olivia and Luke, Rebecca, Samantha...they were all there to celebrate.

 

The chatter of several conversations faded away as Father took his place behind Vincent and Catherine and signaled for everyone’s attention.

 

“It has been said that the child is the meaning of this life,” Father began in a strong voice. “Today we celebrate not one but two special children, two new lives that have been born into our world. We welcome these children with love that they may be able to love. We welcome these children with gifts that they may learn generosity. And we welcome these children with names.” Father spoke to Vincent. “What names have you chosen?”

 

“We will call our daughters Margaret Regina…” Vincent nodded to the drowsy bundle of blond hair and vivid blue eyes in Catherine’s arms “and Victoria Ellen…” and now Vincent gazed at the daughter he held, Margaret’s twin, identical to her sister except for the small cleft in her upper lip, the tiniest hint of sharp nails and a soft down that covered most of her body.

 

The names met with a low murmur of approval from the gathering. Vincent exchanged a smile with Catherine, then turned to look at Father, who for a moment looked as if he would be unable to continue. After a few seconds, the old man swallowed and wiped his eyes. “Thank you,” he said, placing a hand on Vincent’s shoulder and one on Catherine’s. Then he addressed the crowd: “Now you may come forward with your gifts…”

 

A surprised exclamation from the back of the room made Father stop. He peered over the tops of heads as everyone turned around to see what had caused the commotion.     Within seconds everyone grew utterly silent. A small opening appeared in the crowd, widening to admit Narcissa into full view of the assemblage.

 

“Narcissa!” Father exclaimed. He moved forward to greet the unexpected guest but stopped when Catherine stood and held out one hand to the old woman.

 

“Catherine,” Narcissa said. She angled her head. “Vincent.”

 

“Thank you for coming, Narcissa,” Vincent said.

 

Narcissa smiled and nodded, then returned her attention to Catherine. With one ancient hand she touched the smooth skin of cheek. “You have done well, child. Now tell me: have you found yourself at last, here in this world?”

 

Catherine smiled. “Yes, Narcissa, I have found myself at last...here in my world.”

 

Narcissa smiled, released Catherine’s hand and stepped backward. As if on cue the crowd surged around the old woman, bringing gifts and congratulations and expressing wonder and delight at the two new lives waiting to learn the ways of love, laughter and the never ending generosity of spirit that dwelled in the hearts of all around them.

 

(And somewhere -- in a place too far to travel, yet too close to miss -- a gentle spirit named Maggie watched the naming ceremony and shed tears of purest joy.)

 

THE END

 

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